This weekend we traveled south three hours to Antsiribe for a Saturday missionary zone conference and a Sunday visit to the branch of Saradroa. It was great to be with the missionaries in that area who are doing a great job. We were able to hold the conference in the home of Elder and Sister Todd, our senior couple in the area, who are wonderful tutors to the leaders of the member district and of the branches. This district is actively preparing to become a stake.
On Sunday we traveled with the Todds, the District President Pierre and the zone leaders an hour north of Antsirabe on the main "highway" (actually a fairly narrow, but paved windy two lane road) to an obscure unmarked trail heading up the mountain. In our four wheel drive trucks we followed this very challenging, deeply rutted and steep trail for several kilometers until we could go no further with the pickups. We then walked a footpath for another kilometer into the mountains to the "chapel".
This metal roofed building shown below is located next to two brick thatched-roofed homes typical to this part of the country. There is no village to be found anywhere close. The 100+ members walk from humble houses located all over these mountains. Many walk long distances to church faithfully every week. This building was built by the members and has a dirt floor and no glass windows. The nearest electricity is 40 or 50 kilometers away. The running water is from the river at the bottom of this valley where several people were baptized two weeks ago.
In this photo you can see the little generator that provides what little power they use to power the CD player that provides the music for their meetings.
As this is the only power source for any of the members, they take advantage during the meetings to charge their cell phones. Cell phones are the one connection with the modern world that they have, even way out here.
We were warmly greeted by the members on our arrival. These people are very poor materially. Many were bare footed is spite of somewhat chilly temperatures. We have never been among a group of people with a greater spirit and anxiousness to learn the gospel and serve in the church. The missionaries have never done "tracting" or contacting in this area. They travel up here an hour and a half, one day a week, and teach people who are invited by the members or who just show up. It is the stuff of missionary legends.
We had 105 at sacrament meeting which is a little over 100% attendance. The average attendance for this branch is 96%. What is more remarkable is that this is also the percentage of tithing faithfulness.
There are currently four full-time missionaries serving from this small branch out in the middle of nowhere, two serving in Madagascar and two serving in Africa. We met with the young women and young men, about twenty, and asked how many were planning on serving missions. All raised their hands. Below are the two homes adjacent to the chapel. Two of our full-time missionaries come from these homes.
Because this is a one room church, most of the classes are held outside. There is a plan to build a larger brick church adjacent very soon.
Below is the branch council which meets each week with the presidents of each auxiliary and quorum. This was run with a written agenda, just like in the handbooks. These wonderful, humble leaders often make the hours-long journey to Antsirabe for leadership training. They frequently return walking up the mountain in the pitch dark. There are no lights out here.
As we observe in many places here, it is the children that often touch our hearts.